Men’s Rights Activists and Misdirected Hatred

by Carly Rhianna Smith

Carly Rhianna Smith is a journalism student at Langara College currently completing her practicum at The Tyee in Vancouver. 

I became aware of the men’s rights movement in September of 2012, when a friend showed me an upcoming debate called “Has Feminism Gone Too Far?”

Vancouver slam poet Ruth Mason-Paull organized the debate. Feminist speakers as well as men’s rights activist (MRA) speakers were scheduled, and a public event on Facebook was created. Interestingly, the debate was to be held on Commercial Drive at Café Deux Soleil, a neighbourhood eatery haunted by many feminists, as well as others of the political left.

The Facebook event exploded with venomous discourse between the two camps, and the event was cancelled. According to an article on feminist website Jezebel.com dated September 10, “Mason-Paull canceled the debate … after receiving what she said was an overwhelming barrage of comments and threats.” On Mason-Paull’s Facebook page, she said “I come from a middle class belief that people can discuss things and work it out through logic and reasoning. I understand that this is at best delusional when applied to certain members of our society.”

Around the same time, in the same neighbourhood, posters from the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) Vancouver group began appearing, and were soon torn down. The posters said things like “Rape Culture. Men Can Stop Rape. All Men Are Rapists. Had Enough of This Shit Yet?”

 

Journalist Derek Bedry, who soon came under fire from MRAs, reported on this in a story on Open File. They accused him of “creating the news” by tearing down the posters himself. They posted pictures of a man (who didn’t look much like him) and publicly vilified him in comments on the article. Comments were patronizing, saying things like “So how did you become a reporter again Derek? Do you receive a pat on the back from some ladies at work for this? Or do they throw some more bones at you?” All this was too juicy and I did some further research into the MRM.

The most active website I came across was AVoiceForMen.com. They have over 1,200 featured articles separated into categories like “misandry,” “sexual politics,” and “feminism.” They also put out radio shows on a multitude of topics pertaining to the MRM.

But what, exactly, do they stand for? And what do they hope to accomplish?

 

At best, the MRAs look to correct what they see as a series of social injustices directed towards men in a society that caters to female dominance. At worst, they are misguided, angry people with a chip on their shoulder using feminism as a scapegoat for the problems they face in their lives.

“You have a group in a privileged position in society and they’re claiming to be the victim; it’s either a strategic maneuver or else it’s just a misguided perspective,” says Nicole Deagan, a member of The F Word feminist media collective. Deagan encountered a lot of resistance from MRAs when she worked as a legal advocate for women who were going through the court system in the 1990s. “Either it’s people who have power and are uncomfortable with the idea of losing their power or they’re uncomfortable with somebody who’s typically not had power trying to get some. Or else it’s individuals, especially in the men’s rights movement, who are suffering injustices as individuals and they interpret it as a systemic issue,” she says.

The Vancouver Men’s Rights Activism website states in its FAQ: “The MRM is a true civil rights movement, which entertains no goals of removal of the legal rights of others. Both men and women are members of the men’s movement, which recognizes and works to address the real struggles men now face.” To them, this is in contrast to feminism, which “is now elitist, and prejudiced against men” because “many mainstream feminist organizations define masculinity in their public literature as hostile, violent and oppressive.”

The main antagonist of the MRM is feminism. “I’m of the firm belief that, while no society is perfect, we have pursued, and I think achieved, as much sexual parity as could possibly be hoped for in western culture,” says Paul Elam, creator of A Voice For Men. “If there is systemic discrimination against women, I would certainly stand up and speak against it if anyone could show me where it was. However, what I see in terms of systemic discrimination anymore works against men.”

 

MRAs are fighting against misandry, the fear or hatred of men and boys. A lot of MRM literature uses examples of men being irrationally feared as sexual aggressors, female-on-male violence not being taken seriously, and the court system’s favoritism of women to illustrate their point. The problem with their approach is that they frequently cite anecdotal evidence to back up their claims, yet provide either no or blatantly false empirical evidence or statistics to back them up.

Many MRAs, such as Vancouver resident Chris Marshall, seem to have become involved in the movement due to a personal hardship. Marshall runs the website A Father’s Story, which documents his custody battle with his wife, who lives in Alberta with their 11-year-old son. The website, to say the least, does not seem to be working in his favour. He has continued posting despite being ordered by a judge to take the site down, saying in a post, “It is still up because it is the only tool I have to get people to understand the 10-year nightmare that I have been through in the Alberta courts.” He posted his entire psychological assessment, in which Dr. J. Thomas Dalby states: “Mr. Marshall has shown, by his past actions, a sense of entitlement that he feels he has the natural right to construct access to his child in the way he sees fit in spite of legal restrictions. He has seen the consequences of this casual disregard of legal boundaries and his conduct can only be described as self-defeating.”

In an interesting turn of events, Marshall was to co-host a new debate after the first one at Café Deux Soleil was cancelled. John H., MRA blogger at A Voice For Men named only as “John The Other,” would also host. I intended to attend the debate and interview some of the MRAs in person. It was going to be held at the car dealership in East Vancouver, CC Motors, of which Marshall was the manager. I showed up not realizing this, and walked around in confusion, looking for the master debaters. I could see signage out in front of the dealership being taken down but not much other activity. I asked someone and they told me, “The guy who was supposed to run it never showed up.”

I found on the Facebook event page that police had escorted Marshall off the premises and that his position at the dealership had been terminated due to an entirely separate issue. I got his contact information from his website, and he seemed eager, if not overly so, to share his story with me. He expressed worry in our conversation that I was going to “use him” to get to other MRAs and defame their movement. After some reassurance, we arranged an interview time.

I showed up at the coffee shop we’d arranged to meet at 10 minutes early. I waited for him for over 45 minutes and placed several calls to him that remained unanswered and unreturned. He later replied to one of the emails I sent him, but never got back to me about re-scheduling an interview. This was perturbing; isn’t their goal to have their voices and points of view heard by the public? The opportunity was there and gone.

I soon found that MRAs are an elusive bunch outside of the realms of the internet. I managed to get ahold of Paul Elam after several emails over the course of two weeks or so. He admitted to me that the only reason he ever called me back was because I was “so persistent.” I also attempted to contact John The Other through the website, through Paul Elam, and through Facebook, to no answer.

This seems to be an MRA tactic – they control what information they’re putting out and the slant with which it’s communicated. If they don’t cooperate with media, then there is less of a chance of media scrutiny. In many articles, media has been unkind to MRAs, but this has been as much their own undoing as anything else.

Firstly, to get to the heart of the matter, a majority of claims made by MRAs are false. In a video made by Men’s Rights Edmonton, they say, “Women and men initiate domestic violence at similar rates. Over 250 scholarly studies demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive or more aggressive than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.” This assertion is widely purported in the MRA community. Notice that the “scholarly studies” are not named, nor are they cited anywhere. Another poster put up on Commercial Drive in September said, “Stop Violence Against Women. But not against men. Because men do not matter, and despite being more often the victims of violence, male victims are no good for fund raising, so screw them.” However, according to Statistics Canada, “In 2010, 7 in 10 (70%) victims of police-reported family violence were girls or women. Looking at rates, the risk of becoming a victim of police-reported family violence was more than twice as high for girls and women as it was for boys and men … The main factor behind females’ increased risk of family violence is related to their higher representation as victims of spousal violence. Women aged 15 years and older accounted for 81% of all spousal violence victims.” In addition, the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project says in its Clemency Manual, “Currently, there are approximately 2,000 battered women in America who are serving prison time for defending their lives against their batterers. As many as 90% of the women in prison today for killing men had been battered by those men.”

MRAs make claims that sound true or based in fact, when in actuality, they’re based on assumption, anecdotal evidence, or a complete misunderstanding of the issue. “Domestic violence against women is much more likely than domestic violence against men to be life-threatening,” says Jarrah Hodge, who runs the blog Gender Focus. “If MRAs want to address violence against men they should also look at male violence against men and address the stereotypes and pressures that unfortunately tells many men that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict and necessary to prove masculinity.”

Most perturbing are their claims regarding sexual violence. In the “Facts” section on A Voice For Men, they claim “Men are the overwhelming majority of rape victims.” However, none of the following statistics they present prove that. All the statistics have to do with the percentage of female aggressors in cases of child abuse, correctional facilities, or the inmates who report prison rape. These are all misleading. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, nine out of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003, while SexAssault.ca statistics show the over 80 per cent of sex crime victims in Canada are women.

Even more dangerous are their attitudes toward rape and rape culture. John The Other was quoted in Bedry’s Open File article as saying, “Maybe it’s a mistaken accusation, she doesn’t remember who she had sex with because she was drunk at the party or whatever. Some make accusations that have nothing to do with being raped; they’re angry, or they got stood up, they wanted to have sex with a guy but he said no. The fact that our society doesn’t have a balance for this is a major problem. I’m not suggesting every woman you meet is a loose cannon, but every woman you meet has the potential to be one, because for those few who are nutty, there’s no disincentive for them to go, oh, I was late for work. I know, I’ll just say I got raped.” This is speculative and revealing that, while MRAs say they are not anti-women, their attitudes are misogynistic at the core. The belief that women can and will falsely accuse men of rape in order to further their own ends is another symptom of the rape culture that MRAs claim does not exist.

“[They] definitely seem to see feminists as enemies. And so these men are in a position of power but are rallying people against their supposed ‘oppressors’. But since those aren’t real oppressors with real social power then it just ends up feeding into the same discrimination that women experience already,” says Deagan.

The clash between feminists and MRAs is tempestuous. “In my experience, their approach is quite reactionary as opposed to pro-active; I find they are more interested in smear campaigns against feminism rather than making a case for issues they think are important to men,” says Megan Karius, who maintains the Feminist Edmonton website. “They generally blame feminism for what they consider men’s issues and that ultimately detracts from their arguments.”

There seems to be a group of them that are quite vocal and quite aggressive so when they see something, specifically when they see women’s activists or anyone who’s trying to look at women’s issues, they kind of come in for the attack and so it’s very hard to have a reasonable conversation,” says Deagan.

I recognize that patriarchy is not only oppressive to women, but functions to oppress men as well. The term “patriarchy” is not some sort of imputation against all men, identifying them as oppressors of all women. Patriarchy is an institution; it functions at the cultural level and, while it does avail men with privilege, this does not mean that males are not also detrimentally impacted by patriarchy,” writes Jasmine Peterson in an article on the blog Gender Focus. This spurred a mocking, hateful response video from MRAs. The background of the video is a photo of someone in a gorilla mask with superimposed text that reads “Feminist sans makeup.” The men read her entire post in a mocking tone and present their own unsubstantiated facts, then go on to invite people to attack her.

The ones who have engaged me have generally taken one of two approaches: outright hostility and total dismissal of feminists as “cunts” or “feminazis” who are bent on bringing down men, or arguing more civilly that they don’t believe feminism is necessary because, in their view, society actually discriminates against men,” said Hodge.

They are just the latest trend in the ongoing backlash to the gains of the feminist movement we’ve seen in the past few decades.  While individual men may face structural inequality due to other aspects of their identity, such as race, class, sexual orientation, or ability, they still derive privilege from being male; I think the majority of MRAs are reacting to seeing some of their previously unquestioned privilege eroded and they are threatened by that,” says Karius.

One begins to wonder whether MRAs hate feminists, or are just rattled by women asserting themselves and challenging traditional modes of behaviour. Elam believes that the over-sexualization of women in the media is simply “recognizing women’s sexual power in this culture. Their sexual power gives them access to men economically.” He says that “sexuality generates a lot of financial generosity in men,” and some women are not only aware of this, but use it to their advantage. “We’ve been skewed by feminist ideology – we don’t see the power women have in our society,” he says. For how often MRAs accuse feminists of misandry, it’s incredibly ironic when they rely on arguments such as this one.  That statement is more insulting to men than anything feminists could come up with,” says Karius.

All this is not to say MRAs don’t have any valid claims. “We can and should absolutely talk about how our rigidly gendered society hurts men, but we can’t stop talking about the ways that women have been unequal and the ways in which women still suffer because of their gender,” says Hodge.

The issues MRAs have qualms with are basically class or social issues and have little to do with gender.

As feminism continues to be misrepresented and seen as some sort of hate movement, the goals feminists pursue become all the more relevant.

I think attacks by Men’s Rights Activists can be distracting from the issues and campaigns we’re involved in around women’s equality. It’s frustrating but I think most people who look at the issues can see MRAs tend to be pretty out-of touch,” says Hodge.

That being said, when I was waiting for Marshall’s interview, a man noticed I had been waiting for someone with a notebook and recorder and asked me about it. 

“I’m going to interview someone for an article,” I said.

“Who? And what is it about?” he asked

“I’m writing an article about the men’s rights movement,” I replied.

“Men’s rights! Ha! That’s a laugh! There’s no such thing these days!” he said as he walked off, guffawing.

Their attitudes may be outdated and misinformed, but many men agree with them. Examining gender inequality equipped with the wrong information can lead to some very troubling conclusions. MRAs create such noise in their political lobbying that they are bound to influence change. For example, a group called RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) claims they have blocked four federal domestic violence bills in the United States. These are not the first legal implications MRAs have had, nor will they be the last if MRAs are taken seriously and feminism continues to be painted in a negative light. 

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: worth it?

Guest post by Anna Wynveen

Bort (a.k.a) Anna Wynveen fills her free hours playing synthesizer with Kill City Kids and Lamontasaurus, and shouting to the wind at mulled-whine.blogspot.com.

 

I sat down to write a quick review of the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I soon realized that, not only is a quick review impossible, but I’m definitely not qualified to handle a discussion about this movie.

The story centres around Lisbeth Salander, a bisexual goth-geek private investigator.  She is hired by an excommunicated reporter to help solve the case of a missing woman.  Lisbeth is the victim of abuse (a long painful history is implied but not shared with the audience), and the film contains a graphic scene of her being raped by her social worker.  Did I say graphic?  I meant GRAPHIC.  It was definitely not an overtly sexy, Eminem-Rihanna depiction of violence against women.  But is it ever possible to portray sexual violence without it being sexualized?  And is this just the latest in a line of stories, written by men, which aim to titillate viewers with graphic depictions of men raping and murdering women?

Ugh.  I just don’t know.  But I would caution anyone who is sensitive to graphic depictions of violence to avoid this movie.

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“You watch that?” Why we consume violence against women as entertainment

 

I have a confession to make.  I was once obsessed with the television show Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Originally a casual viewer in my teens, I became increasingly addicted to the show when I transitioned into dorm-living at university, a place where fellow first-years far more tech-savvy than I introduced me to the wonders of closed file-transfer systems.  Entire seasons of pretty much any TV show you liked where but a click and short download away.  SVU extravaganza!

I watched all the episodes I could get.  And when I moved off-campus, I wasn’t going to let the fact that I could no longer safely pirate for free stop me from getting more.

So I began buying entire seasons on DVD (at anywhere between 60 and 70 bucks a pop) and holing up in my room for mini SVU marathons.  I had to watch them in my room because my roommate and dear friend could only handle so much rape and battery in our shared communal spaces.

You see, SVU is a crime-drama explicitly about, as the introduction to the show describes, “sexually based offenses,” which are “especially heinous.”  Unlike your regular, run of the mill murder at the centre of most episodes of the original Law and Order, SVU plots are about serial rapists, international child-porn rings, incest and the like.  You know, the stuff of warm and fuzzy primetime.

I honestly cannot explain my initial attraction to the show, other than to say that it was exciting and suspenseful, well-acted and full of the twists and turns for which the Law and Order franchise, and its creator Dick Wolf, have become famous.  I was also really into the dynamic between the two main characters – what I saw as truly plutonic respect and admiration between a male and female detective, which is a refreshing departure from your typical she-loves-him/he-breaks-her-heart soap opera storyline.  I wasn’t a criminology student, interested in exploring the psyches of abusers.  At that time I didn’t even identify as a feminist – it wasn’t a conscious effort to examine the portrayal of violence against women in the media.  I just liked the show, so I watched it.  Every episode ever made over the course of its 10+ seasons, in a matter of months.

As the show became more predictable and the quality of writing diminished, I became less interested.  I would still catch new episodes from time to time, but I didn’t plan my life around it.  The glory days were over.  But I still considered myself a fan.

Fast forward to last year, when, in the common area of the UBC Women’s Studies department, I casually mention to a professor of mine that I watched the show the night before.   An inexact dramatization:

Me: “So I was watching Law and Order: SVU last night and I think the storyline was inspired by a local case.  You know how Law and Order episodes are inspired by real stories?  Well last night it wa – “

Prof: “You watch that?”

Me: “Yah, I dunno, uh, er, [incoherent increasing panicked mumbling].”

Prof: “Wow. I make a conscious effort not consume gratuitous depictions of violence against women.”

Me: “Yah, me too, you know, it’s just such an interesting show… it’s, it’s uh, it’s not all bad.”

Prof: “Regardless. It is what it is. Which is something I would never watch. Ever.”

I had been outed.  Here I was, a feminist, in the feminist epicenter of the university no less, admitting first that I watched TV at all (gasp!), and worse, that I watched misogynist trash.  In a matter of seconds my proud L&O fandom became a source of incredible embarrassment.  Why did I watch that show?

I still don’t entirely know.  But the process of self-reflection in this regard was re-ignited last month when, at Vancouver Rape Relief’s public forum on violence against women, one audience member argued that the culture of sexist violence we all live in will never change as long as torturing women is considered entertainment, and as long as various programs all relying on graphic violence against women constitute our ‘choices’ on television. Later that night, my partner turned on his new favourite show, Criminal Minds. The episode chronicled the FBI’s response when a woman was kidnapped, gagged and rigged up to a bomb in the  middle of the desert by a deranged sociopath.  The people the anonymous commenter was condemning were people like us.  I felt like a phony, like a big, sleazy hypocrite.  In attempt to delve deeper into this part of my life (or perhaps, to assuage my guilt), I’ve reached a few conclusions.

I think it’s fair to say there are two very different categories of violence against women in popular media (primarily on TV and in movies).  The depiction of women being sadistically brutalized in the name of entertainment – or “torture porn” as it is now being called – is epitomized in the modern horror film genre (think the Hostel series).  It is gory, graphic, cruel, and revolting.  A very small (mostly male) minority constitute the group most willing to stomach it, even enjoy it.  It is a very dark and very twisted way of ‘escaping’ from the realities of everyday life, which is what I think of as the reason most people go to the movies.

As far as I am concerned, it is the farthest thing from entertaining.  While men and women are both decapitated, carved up and gutted in this genre, Kira Cochrane says “it’s the violence against women that’s most troubling, because it is here that sex and extreme violence collide.”  The psychopath protagonists in these films always reserve the most twisted of sexual torture for their female victims, and female victims’ sexuality is almost always front and centre to their character’s identity – she is either a stripper (or some variation thereof) or a virgin (or virgin-esque). She is sexy alive, but sexier dead.  Here we see the troubling resonance of the label “torture porn.” It may be a thriller, but it plays off of the all-too-familiar signposts of porn, something supposedly meant to spur arousal and feelings of sexual satisfaction.  According to a media professor at Temple University, the increasing representation of sexual characters in horror films tells us that the media “seem to be giving women permission to take control of their own sexuality.”  Now that’s scary.

The second category is less sensational but more widespread: violence against women that occurs as part of some (semi) believable plot, as part of a TV legal drama (think Prime Suspect, Law and Order, etc.) or feature film (The General’s Daughter, A Time to Kill, Thelma and Louise, just to name a few).  While it is certainly still disturbing, this kind of violence is presented as part of, if not central to, the show’s key conflict: it is a crime perpetrated against victims who deserve justice, if not healing, rather than a foregone conclusion resulting from some psychopath’s twisted agenda.  The audience is supposed to be angry that this thing happened to the victim and join in on the pursuit for justice (not sit back and enjoy it as they bleed out or are gang-raped).  It can be no less triggering than torture porn – actually often more so, given that it is more ‘real’ (we’ll come back to this).  That said it can still be sensationalist and bizarre – see the Criminal Minds example above – but it can also be very true-to-life, a semi-accurate depiction of what a woman might go through.  This kind of violence encompasses a wide spectrum of stories.

So why do people watch it?  Some people are really freaking privileged (honestly, I was probably this type of viewer originally).  They’ve never gone through heavy sh*t, or truly had to deal with real violence in their lives. So for them, it’s a glimpse into the Other – a totally different set of experiences that are different from theirs and thus, strangely entertaining (all with the caveat that this is all of course, fictional). There’s also a voyeuristic element to this kind of media. Violence against women is a taboo subject – not very many people talk about it on a day-to-day basis, let alone broadcast stories about it to the masses. So these shows have a ‘come and see what no other program will show you’ element to them.  It’s unusual and mysterious. And as much as it pains me to say it, there is probably a small minority of misogynists who take pleasure in watching women get hurt.

I think, though, there is a large contingent of fans that are after something altogether different: reassurance.  You see, crime dramas, by definition, position players in the justice system as central characters.  You are meant to like these people. Root for them. And by and large, they don’t disappoint.  They are very, very good and catching the bad guys (usually at record speeds, with incredible DNA-inspired certainty, no less) and are almost always on the victims’ side.  They are honourable, respectable and righteous, and their sole purpose is to make the world a better place. On SVU, Detective Olivia Benson is a strong woman, out to get justice for every victim she meets as a way to avenge the rape of her mother. Her partner, Detective Elliot Stabler, hates men who hurt women: he is big and strong and beats up ‘perps.’  They want to make criminals pay, and most of the time, they do.

In a world where police officers are sexually assaulting and harassing one another, failing to respond when women go missing en masse, and ignoring repeated tips about who is probably killing them, we are desperate for good-cop characters.  In a world where judges hand out probation to rapists, court-appointed psychiatrists refuse to label priests who collect child-porn as pedophiles, and lawyers re-traumatize women during sexual assault and abuse trials by attacking their character and humiliating them on the stand, we are begging for a sign that at least someone in the justice system actually cares about the victims, and that they’re not all out to keep protecting and excusing men’s sexist violence. When it comes to dealing with violence against women, the real world often fails us. So we turn to Law and Order to reassure ourselves that maybe it’s not all bad.  Maybe sometimes the system works.

Of course, we know these stories can be bad for us.  That the latter category of violence is seen as ‘true-to-life’ is obviously incredibly problematic.  First of all, most shows that address violence against women operate on the stranger attack storyline – the myth that most gendered violence is perpetrated by a stranger.  It’s not.

Moreover, because of racist and sexist structures in Hollywood (white, traditionally beautiful women are almost the only women who make it onto television), the victims in these programs are therefore mostly white and beautiful – the typical ‘good girl’ we are supposed to sympathize with, and not the ‘bad girl’ who we blame for her own attack and whose motives we question (victims of colour, poor women, immigrant women, women who’ve ever broken the law or women in the sex industry). Needless to say this is an incredibly narrow profile of the victim that reinforces stereotypes and re-produces social hierarchies.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, most cases on these kinds of shows are solved by the end of an hour-long episode.  Detectives catch the killer, a jury convicts the rapist, or some kind of satisfying vigilante justice is carried out against a molester. In the real world, a tiny fraction of domestic violence and sexual assault cases are deemed credible and investigated, and an even smaller fraction of these actually result in charges and convictions.

As much as I’ve hated on SVU for perpetuating harmful stereotypes and rape myths, I have to credit where credit is due.  One of the most stirring episodes for me was about a trans woman who killed someone in self-defense. She was convicted, but because she was pre-op (she still had male genitalia and thus, in the eyes of the state, was still a man) she was sent to a male prison. She was brutally gang-raped. The episode begged the question, how does the justice system fail and endanger transgender people? What should be done to make it safer?

Other episodes have been more documentary-like – your average battered wife story or rape tale, depicted close-up, in painstaking detail. Unlike melodramatic storylines, these episodes were a genuine depiction of what it’s like. What it’s like to try and leave your abusive husband, only to have to cut off communication with your loved ones, check in to a shelter (with a curfew, and without privacy), and lose all your resources and try to get by without a cent because he insisted you  be a ‘kept’ woman, reliant on his income. Or what it’s like to report a rape to police – what it’s like to have your home turned upside down, your body inspected and photographed, your choices questioned, your experience being recorded over and over again, your boyfriend not understand. These two examples in particular are a direct response to the all-too-common questions, why didn’t she leave? and, why didn’t she report it?

Other episodes make explicit reference the incredible rates of sexual abuse amongst women with disabilities. Others tell stories of abusers within the institution itself – prison guards who rape and abuse female prisoners, judges who sexually exploit and blackmail, and yes, even cops who rape and coerce women in prostitution.

The bottom line is violence against women in the media can be gratuitous and disgusting, but it can also be compelling.  It can be ridiculously sensational, but it can also be accurate – ripped from the headlines, based on real cases, rooted in some kind of reality that we all would benefit from acknowledging. There is no one answer in how to deal with it, and even if there was, it wouldn’t necessarily be to swear it off altogether. Instead, as we watch our favourite TV shows or go to the movies, we need to ask ourselves (and the ones we are with): why was violence included in this storyline?  What is realistic about it, and what isn’t? How do these characters reflect the ‘real world’? And most importantly, what am I feeling as I consume it?  Why am I consuming it?

SVU returns with a new episode on January 18th.  I guess that gives me a few weeks to figure that out for myself.

 

 

 

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Why I won’t be watching the Stanley cup finals.

I love hockey. One of the things I miss most from Ontario, now that I live in Vancouver, is outdoor ice rinks. Everyone has that one activity they love so much that they can’t remember how much time has passed while doing it. Outdoor shinny is that for me. What has also struck me about this type of hockey is that when I have played with guys I often don’t have to go through the usual frustrations of not being passed the puck and all that other crap that comes with being a female athlete. There’s something about the informal nature of shinny that can momentarily escape gender roles.

I should be an obvious candidate to be an NHL fan – I’ve got the Canadian hockey love! And the nonsensical Canadian hockey nostalgia (my parents are non-skating Americans). Now more than ever I want to be because my current home is location for the unstoppable Vancouver Canucks. During the playoff games the streets (and anywhere without a tv) are empty. Which is actually nice for me because it means more ice time if my hockey game falls on the same night.

So, what’s my beef? Mainly the money, power, and violence.

I saw this episode of the Simpsons recently in which Mr. Burns acquires a basketball team and in an effort to attract an audience he proposes, much to Lisa’s protests of course, that the city builds a huge and luxurious stadium. Mr. Burns gets the vote at city hall and they go ahead with the building. On the opening night Burns shouts over the load speaker: “Welcome to the American Dream: A billionaire using public funds to construct a private playground for the rich and powerful!” The crowd cheers in response.

Watching that made me laugh really hard…and then sigh.

According to Dave Zirin, (awesome political/sport commentator/feminist ally) over 30 billion dollars have been spent since 1990 (not including tax breaks) on stadiums in the States (I’m sure it’s something less but proportionally disgraceful in Canada).  Zirin aptly describes this process as socializing debt and privatizing profit.  The cost of the new roof to BC Place in addition to the original amount to build the stadium puts the overall cost at $835 Million. That makes BC Place the 13th most costly venue IN THE WORLD.

And who can afford to bring their family to a Canucks game? Using the average ticket price for the 09/10 season a family of 4 would have to spend $250 on tickets alone (for my hometown of Toronto: $470 – if you can believe it). And, that’s if you plan to not buy a single thing to eat or drink at the stadium.   For an alternative check out the interesting story of the Green Bay Packers – the only publicly owned, not-for-profit professional sports team in the US (in Canada the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL are publicly owned).

From a feminist angle what really gets my goat about the absurd amount of public money spent on these venues is that women are not even allowed to play in them. (yes, yes except for the odd championship that may be in town). They are overpriced man tents. So, here’s where the power comes in. Rich men own the man teams who then sell the tickets to the rich men. Women are sometimes are welcome…as cheerleaders. I worked a season at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto running beer to the platinum section and I had many opportunities to see the treatment of the cheerleaders at Raptors games.  I also attended many Argo games as a teenager and I don’t think I ever heard the following commentary coming out of one of my fellow fans “Oh gee, that cradle catch requires a staggering degree of athletic prowess” unless that’s what “show us your tits” actually means.

Anyone who has been around professional sport leagues know that it cultivates a macho jock beef cake environment (I’m pretty sure that’s the academic term).  To date, there is not one “out” gay major professional sport athlete in North America (there are some that came out after they retired).  This says a lot about the culture. Namely, that any sign of weakness (i.e. “femininity,” because you know gay guys aren’t real men) is not accepted.  There is long held belief, largely based on proof and experience, that this kind of jock culture cultivates an environment that incites violence against women. Not only are the althletes themselves more likely to physically abuse women than the average male but the rates of domestic violence in home increases during sporting events, especially when the home team loses.  Not to mention the correlation between major sporting events and the rise in sex trafficking.

So, I won’t hate on you for watching the Canucks but this is a little flavour of why I find it so hard to stomach.  (This, and more uninteresting reasons like it would cut into my dystopian novel reading and Fringe watching)

I think it’s about time professional sports stops being the only thing many progressive people are not willing to critique.  Looking critically at something you love doesn’t mean you love it any less. Sport can be such a powerful tool for positive social change; it deserves sincere examination.

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Prostitution in Canada: Imagining Alternate Realities

Last night, I was inspired and moved by the powerful, passionate, political voices of three women:renowned legal scholar and anti-prostitution activist Gunilla Ekberg, anti-prostitution activist Trisha Baptie and Sherry Smilie of AWAN, who spoke yesterday at Prostitution and Women’s Equality, calling for the abolition of prostitution in Canada .

I’ll admit that despite the media coverage prostitution gets in Vancouver, in particular when discussing the DTES, the arguments for criminalizing the buying of sex are not something I’m thoroughly familiar with, or used to hearing. Far more time and space is given to those arguing that sex work and the activities surrounding it should be decriminalized in favor of a harm reduction approach (see this earlier post by Meghan Murphy for current legal challenges moving us towards decriminalization).

Thorough discussions of what the abolition of prostitution means are covered here, here and here, and last night’s panel discussion will be aired on the F-Word soon in case you missed it, so I will not delve into the details of this political vision here.

Instead, I am going to tackle three questions Gunilla Ekberg posed to the audience, challenging us to understand that prostitution is violence against women.

Firstly, who are the women used in prostiution?

Second, what is done by men to prostituted women?

Third, what are the effects of prostitution on women in prostiution, and society at large?

Think about these points for a moment, and consider the realities in Canada.

Who are the women used in prostitution?

We know, from collective knowledge and stats like these that women are prostituted in a context of poverty, racism, colonialism, and systemic sexual and physical abuse stemming from a patriarchal society that is tolerant of and complicit in, violence against women. In this context, can it ever be said that a woman is involved in prostitution based on her own free will? The context in which this ‘choice’ has been made cannot be ignored.

What is done by men to prostituted women?

Prostituted women’s bodies are used by men for sex, and that includes a myriad of acts that are humiliating and violent. Prostitution is synonymous with violence. We know this. It’s always lumped into that statement ‘high-risk lifestyle’ –as if it is a lifestyle choice to be at constant risk of violence and death. Prostituted women are beaten, raped, and murdered daily here in Vancouver. This is what is done by men to prostituted women.

What are the effects of prostitution on women in prostitution, and society at large?

Women in prostitution are degraded and devalued, their bodies are abused and trafficked, and they are used by men for pleasure and for profit. When we allow women’s bodies to be purchased and profited from, we perpetuate a patriarchal society that does not value women as equal citizens, a society where violence against women is systemic and alarmingly prevalent.

Examining these three questions, it is pretty clear that prostitution is violent and harmful to women who are directly involved in prostitution and to society in general; it perpetuates inequality between men and women, and contributes to a culture that normalizes violence against women.   Things aren’t going to change though, until we acknowledge that prostitution is violence against women, that men do not have an inherent right to access women’s bodies, and and it’s decriminalization will only serve to push it out of public view.

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